Could Radiohead's Success Spell Doom For Music Collective Bargaining?

from the well,-not-really... dept

Last week, we wrote about the details showing how Radiohead's experiments with a new business model was successful. However, a couple of readers sent in an article at The Register, which looked into Radiohead's success, and concluded that musicians shouldn't be happy about it, because Radiohead's success may destroy their "hard-fought" collective bargaining arrangements.

There is some amount of truth in this, but it shouldn't be seen as a bad thing for musicians. Part of Radiohead's success was that it, indeed, was able to get certain royalty collections groups to effectively "bend the rules" for the experiment. The Register seems to argue that this is a bad thing, as it will destroy the validity of those royalty groups. However, that's not a bad thing for musicians at all. We've already explained why we think compulsory licenses are a bad idea, creating a bureaucratic nightmare where only the lawyers really benefit. More importantly, they serve as a complex patchwork system to guarantee an old and obsolete business model -- which is why Radiohead had to work around them. Because of this, you get various collections societies making ridiculous claims about representing artists, when some artists don't agree with their stance at all. Yet, because it's "compulsory" many artists have no choice.

Cracking the legitimacy of these royalty collecting societies isn't damaging to musicians. It's just the first step in helping them to embrace much better business models.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Ima Fish, Oct 22nd, 2008 @ 5:32am

    It's crap like that which caused me to stop reading the Register. That article is complete BS. It slams the band for having "dwindling sales," for gouging its "true fans," for worrying about is carbon emissions, and for busting unions.

    The article admits that the experiment was a complete success, but yet belittled it by calling it it a "gimmick." Yeah, I'm sure Windows is just a "gimmick" too, when is Microsoft going to get serious and create a real revenue stream.

    But the worst thing is that the writer completely admits that the present system is inefficient compared to Radiohead's experiment; "fundamentally Warner Chappell was able to move faster and do quick deals – with everyone from Radiohead themselves to iTunes and Last.fm – to ensure the money came in straight away." Exactly why is the Register praising outdated inefficiencies?!

    Ad hominem attacks, poor reasoning, and ludicrous praise for maintaining an outdated and admittedly inefficient system. Who reads this crap?!

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 22nd, 2008 @ 5:36am

    Re:

    Ad hominem attacks, poor reasoning, and ludicrous praise for maintaining an outdated and admittedly inefficient system. Who reads this crap?!

    Are you talking about Techdirt?

     

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  3.  
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    Eeqmcsq, Oct 22nd, 2008 @ 5:45am

    Sarcasm

    > Exactly why is the Register praising outdated inefficiencies?!

    The article makes more sense if you read it with sarcasm.

     

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  4.  
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    Ima Fish, Oct 22nd, 2008 @ 5:56am

    Re: Sarcasm

    "The article makes more sense if you read it with sarcasm."

    I realize that both the Register and the Inquirer don't want to be fuddy-duddy boring tech sites. They want to be hip and fresh so they write in a highly sarcastic manner. However, recognizing the sarcasm in no way changes the fact that the writer's underlying premise is complete crap. Funny crap is still crap.

     

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  5.  
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    Steve, Oct 22nd, 2008 @ 6:56am

    Mike - do you work for the RIAA?


    "However, that's not a bad thing for musicians at all."


    I don't follow your logic. Most musicians will be poorer without collective bargaining. A very few will get richer.



    This is basic economics. If you have evidence to it then please share it. Otherwise, you're saying that making musicians poorer is good, which sounds like the RIAA at work.

     

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  6.  
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    Ima Fish, Oct 22nd, 2008 @ 7:03am

    Re:

    "Most musicians will be poorer without collective bargaining."

    The simple fact is that most musicians are poorer than the successful ones. The is true of fine painters, sculptures, and any number of artistic "professions." That's because the vast majority of participants in any genre suck. And worse of all, even those who do have talent, do not necessarily rise to the top of the sales chart.

    So if you're one of those musicians who survives financially solely on a mandatory outdated and inefficient collective bargaining system, you have to ask yourself, isn't it time you changed careers?

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 22nd, 2008 @ 7:05am

    Re:

    I think I'm unclear on this. Are you arguing it's better to have smaller mucisians riding on the coat-tails of successful mucisians at the cost of an inefficient, beaurocratic system which is apparently an obstacle to new ways of distributing music?

     

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  8.  
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    Edward Barrow, Oct 22nd, 2008 @ 7:09am

    collecting societies

    The music societies have done a great job for musicians with the old tech. But they're collective bodies and naturally can't be as innovative as a single established band like Radiohead which could afford to lose a lot of money, or a new band still with day-jobs.

    The societies don't have money to risk: it belongs to their musician members. So they have to play a safe game.

    But there is one very simple thing that they could and should do, which is to switch to non-exclusive mandates for their members. I believe that ASCAP and BMI in the US are non-exclusive; but PRS-MCPS in the UK take an exclusive assignment. This would allow their members to try innovative approaches, if they wanted to.

     

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  9.  
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    Edward Barrow, Oct 22nd, 2008 @ 7:13am

    Re: Re:

    It's not that inefficient; it's collected lots of money for performing and mechanical rights that couldn't have been collected any other way.

    But, like I say in my main comment, the societies need to switch to non-exclusive mandates. There's no compelling legal or commercial reason for them not to, other than inertia, and frankly, it will make them a lot more attractive to any artists starting up.

     

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  10.  
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    KJ, Oct 22nd, 2008 @ 7:23am

    broad strokes...

    First of all, there's nothing "compulsory" (quotes yours) about ASCAP...where did you get that idea?

    Second, your assertion that...

    "Cracking the legitimacy of these royalty collecting societies isn't damaging to musicians. It's just the first step in helping them to embrace much better business models."

    Is a pretty broad statement. So, make the mechanism by which royalties are distributed to artists go away isn't damaging to musicians...Do you not believe that an artist should not be privy to any kind of royalty? for anything?

    I'm just not convinced that Royalties are always a bad thing.

    Choices are good, and right now, artists choose to work with royalty collecting societies globally. Free markets dictate that if their model is not successful they will fail. Working within (or even manipulating) the legislative frameworks that apply to them, are all part of the the way they run their business.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 22nd, 2008 @ 7:24am

    Bottom Line

    Bottom Line: When it comes to maximizing profits the Radio Head method is not the most profitiable. Its not about making peace, making people happy, etc.. Both Reznor and Radio Head are looking for ways to adapt (As opposed to sending people to jail or paying big fines for listening to simple copy of their music-A crime that both Reznor, and Radio Head members probably committed themselves at some point in their life).

    It really comes down to why people are in music... If your in it for the $$$ yeah, the Radio Head method is not the most profitable. However I prefer their method as opposed to law enforcement/governemt shaking down every boot legger by turning them upside down and shaking them till all the change in their pockets falls to the floor.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 22nd, 2008 @ 7:27am

    I'm pretty sure that the reason for an exclusive agreement with an artist is simply to avoid the artist collecting royalties from more than one organization...why is that hard to understand. No one is forced to join any organization, but if they do..it can only be one.

     

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  13.  
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    Edward Barrow, Oct 22nd, 2008 @ 8:07am

    Re:

    I don't think that's the reason at all; it's so the societies can enforce the rights and go and sue the restaurants and hairdressers that don't have a licence from them for public performance of music. But it's a bad legal argument these days.
    Problem is, if I give MCPS all the mechanical rights in my music, I can't then upload it to a website because, hey, I just gave MCPS the exclusive rights to do that for me. And MCPS can come back at me for the money they would have charged that website for that use of my music. These are the rules Radiohead had to bend for their experiment, which is OK for them.

     

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  14.  
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    Andres, Oct 22nd, 2008 @ 8:49am

    Come on, The Register article is from Andrew Orlowski. He has a crusade against new models such as CC and Radiohead.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 22nd, 2008 @ 8:50am

    why can't people just right about good things. There is so much bullshit going on in the world and people take positive things and just cut them up into negatives. Isn't it great someone is taking a chance on something different, something new, something exciting? Let it happen.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 22nd, 2008 @ 10:16am

    Re: Re:

    things must be very different in the UK. It's certainly not the case in Canada or the US.

     

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  17.  
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    Mike (profile), Oct 22nd, 2008 @ 11:22am

    Re:

    I don't follow your logic. Most musicians will be poorer without collective bargaining. A very few will get richer.

    No one said they couldn't collectively bargain. The problem is when musicians are forced into a compulsory situation.

    This is basic economics. If you have evidence to it then please share it. Otherwise, you're saying that making musicians poorer is good, which sounds like the RIAA at work.

    And, no, that's not basic economics (don't forget, I have a degree in labor relations, which involved numerous courses on collective bargaining and labor economics). Collective bargaining *can* be a good thing, but when its used to block better business models, then it shrinks the pie.

    The collective bargaining structure has limited musicians ability to try new business models that would likely make them more money.

     

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  18.  
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    Mike (profile), Oct 22nd, 2008 @ 11:26am

    Re: broad strokes...

    First of all, there's nothing "compulsory" (quotes yours) about ASCAP...where did you get that idea?

    Where did I say ASCAP was compulsory?

    . So, make the mechanism by which royalties are distributed to artists go away isn't damaging to musicians...Do you not believe that an artist should not be privy to any kind of royalty? for anything?


    I think royalties are a crutch that limit the actual business models that musicians can adopt. They're based on repaying for the same work over and over again. That just doesn't make sense.

    Choices are good, and right now, artists choose to work with royalty collecting societies globally

    Then why did Radiohead need a special exception?

    Free markets dictate that if their model is not successful they will fail.

    It's not a free market.

     

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  19.  
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    KJ, Oct 22nd, 2008 @ 12:16pm

    Re: Re: broad strokes...

    Although you didn't say ASCAP in the sentence, the link referred to ASCAP, ergo...you were implying organizations like ASCAP.

    Musicians (i.e. performers) and Songwriters are two different things. Applying the same model (thus "broad strokes" to two different skill sets doesn't work. Although sometimes (maybe often) a performer may also write the song.

    If I write a song, and then anyone can perform it, record it, distribute it and make money off of it...how is that going to work for me. You may say..get someone to pay for it in advance - would you do that? and if you would...why?

    re why radiohead

    The royalty laws seem to be different (although the article is really vague about what rights they had to negotiate) in the UK (and problematic it would also seem), but the same rules around the various rights restrictions do not exist in North America (individual contract clauses not withstanding). My question is..did radiohead have a contract in place that they wanted to bend?

    it seems to me as long as songwriters and performers have a choice regarding how they license their work and how they are compensated, then it's a free market. If I choose to offer some content for free as part of a more complete business model (perhaps using cc licensing) or if I choose to license my work (through all rights reserved licensing) my success or failure is not wholly reliant on the model, but also how well I execute the model. Either could fail - depending on all the other factors that come into play.

     

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  20.  
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    Mike (profile), Oct 22nd, 2008 @ 12:29pm

    Re: Re: Re: broad strokes...

    Although you didn't say ASCAP in the sentence, the link referred to ASCAP, ergo...you were implying organizations like ASCAP.

    The link about ASCAP wasn't about it being compulsory, it was an example of a collections organization making claims of representing artists' interests when they do not.

    If I write a song, and then anyone can perform it, record it, distribute it and make money off of it...how is that going to work for me. You may say..get someone to pay for it in advance - would you do that? and if you would...why?

    I have discussed, in great detail, various business models for both musicians and songwriters. I'm not going to rewrite all of that.

    it seems to me as long as songwriters and performers have a choice regarding how they license their work and how they are compensated, then it's a free market.

    If some of those choices are backed up by gov't monopolies, it's not a free market at all.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 22nd, 2008 @ 3:03pm

    Re:

    >Who reads this crap?!

    You do, why else would you reply.

     

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  22.  
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    Imcereal, Oct 22nd, 2008 @ 8:04pm

    for real...

    nothing new under the sun....and sadly people everyday only follow what they KNOW..anyway this is about the article and it is crap.....ever heard of circular reasoning?

     

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  23.  
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    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Oct 23rd, 2008 @ 5:54pm

    Same Old Same Old

    I thought so—another Andrew Orlowski piece. Interestingly, he's the only Reg writer who doesn't allow reader comments on his articles.

     

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  24.  
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    Music Sites, Jul 21st, 2013 @ 10:57am

    Music

    The article makes more sense if you read it with sarcasm.

     

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